Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Idle No More's real challenge

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BRANDON -- If the leaders of the Idle No More movement are receiving their tactical advice for free, they are getting their money's worth. If they are paying for the advice, they should demand a refund. If they are relying on their own advice, they need to find better advisers.

It's a blunt message, but it is the message that flows from a series of recent public opinion polls that each indicate the Harper government's popularity among Canadians has increased at a time when the Idle No More movement has dominated the national news cycle.

The majority of Canadians contacted are telling pollsters they empathize with the plight of the nation's indigenous peoples and are open to finding solutions. However, a large percentage is also saying they are unimpressed by the threats and actions of some who claim to speak on behalf of the Idle No More movement.

The message they are sending is you don't build support among Canadians by holding them hostage on highways in the middle of winter or by angry threats to cripple the national economy.

Anger isn't a strategy. It almost never produces positive results for political or social movements.

It certainly hasn't in this case. The polls show the harder the aggressive elements in Idle No More push, the more extreme their threats and actions, the more popular the Conservatives have become. They are playing into Stephen Harper's hands.

Sylvia McAdam understands this reality. One of the four founders of the Idle No More movement, she told a Regina audience last week, "If you have an impromptu blockade that doesn't follow the legal permits, then you're irritating the public and that's not the purpose behind Idle No More."

Idle No More's founders realize blockades and threats of nationwide economic mayhem hurt their cause, but they appear to have little control over the direction of the movement. They designed the bus, but they aren't driving it anymore.

The movement, or at least the Idle No More "brand," has been co-opted by aggressive elements within the existing aboriginal leadership structure, which appears intent on settling old scores with leadership rivals, re-fighting lost battles and advancing their own interests.

They are too busy sniping at each other, making threats and blockading traffic and trains to realize they are losing ground with the people they need on their side. They are apparently oblivious to the fact the Harper government cannot be intimidated into changing its aboriginal agenda.

The only way to accomplish that objective is to convince a portion of those Canadians who currently support the Conservatives to change their mind. That's the kind of message Harper pays attention to.

How does Idle No More do that? They do it by having the founders reassert control of the movement and returning to the positive, inclusive strategies that were successful in late November and early December -- before the movement was hijacked.

They do it by reaching out and forming bonds with other groups that are also concerned about the manner in which the Harper Conservatives are governing this country.

Part of that exercise starts on Monday, when the movement joins forces with Common Causes, a coalition of Canadian social movements and organizations led by the Council of Canadians, for the Idle No More World Day of Action.

While the support of Common Causes can assist Idle No More in advancing its cause, the relationship could also be a detriment if not managed properly. The movement's leadership must be careful to ensure their cause is not swamped by Common Causes' broader objectives and those of its other members.

One attribute of good leadership is the willingness to change directions when an approach isn't working. Another is the willingness to follow good advice.

The current approach isn't working for Idle No More. It's time for the movement's leadership to abandon the aggressiveness and begin acting in a more strategically sound manner.

If they can do that, they have a far better chance at accomplishing their objectives.

Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

deverynrossletters@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 24, 2013 A13

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